Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Spider Mountain (1979)

It's back to early adventure game territory this week, with Spider Mountain, a treasure-hunt text adventure game for the TRS-80 Model I/III computers, published way back in 1979 by The Programmer's Guild.

This is officially Rider Fantasy Creations Adventure #2, written by Programmer's Guild founder Bob Liddil and "Teri Li" (actually Terry Kepner, who was contracted to another company at the time and programmed under a pseudonym here.)  Kepner/Li also wrote the earlier The Lost Dutchman's Gold adventure, which was identified as RFC Adventure #1, and this game also exists as a Commodore 64 port.  The parser is case-sensitive, but released at a time when TRS-80 lowercase kits were uncommon, so the game needs the caps lock on under modern emulation; it generally requires full object names including adjectives and punctuation, and does not support abbreviations like I and N -- we have to type INV or INVENTORY, and GO NORTH.

As in The Lost Dutchman's Gold, this game is in theory "hosted" by an external entity, YOUR PSYCHIC 6TH SENSE, WISDOM in this case, but this idea doesn't play into the story at all.  We're not given much information about the storyline, just a simple GOOD LUCK, SIR KNIGHT, ON YOUR SPIDER MOUNTAIN QUEST to send us on our way.

Maximum enjoyment of any adventure game comes from playing and discovering for oneself, so I encourage interested readers to visit Spider Mountain personally before proceeding here.  But my goal is to document these vintage adventure games in detail, for history's sake, and it's been a good three decades since the game was new, so I have absolutely no qualms about offering comprehensive...


We begin at our small campsite, where we see some carrysacks, an untied burdenbeast, and a campfire.  Clearly there's a fantasy motif afoot here, and the game adopts some unusual object names in an effort to distance its universe from the real world.  LOOK BEAST yields nothing interesting, and look beast even less due to the parser's case-sensitivity, but LOOK BURDENBEAST reveals the creature as a FLOP-EARED ILL TEMPERED QUADRAPED [sic].  It's very like a mule, in other words; this is starting out a lot like Lost Dutchman's Gold.

Examining the campfire reveals a LEATHER PIECE -- we can't GET PIECE, but LOOK LEATHER indicates that IT SMELLS OF CHAOS, AND APPEARS TO BE MADE OF HUMAN SKIN. THERE ARE SOME RUNES WRITTEN UPON IT.  Creepy!  READ LEATHER reveals, "THERE'S SOMETHING MAGIC ABOUT HOME."  But SAY HOME doesn't immediately appear to do anything, so maybe the magic is more subtle than that.

We have to GET CARRYSACKS before we can LOOK CARRYSACKS to find that THEY CONTAIN HANDWEAPON. BEAST MUNCHIES.  The deliberately non-standard nouns will start to become tiresome by the end of the game -- for example, LOOK HANDWEAPON indicates that IT'S A MULTI-SHOT SPRING LOADED DART SHOOTER, WITH 2 DARTS.  So why not just call it a dart gun?  I guess we can be grateful it's not identified as a MANY-LAUNCH COILMETAL POINTFLINGER WITH 2 FLINGPOINTS, anyway.

We can't actually navigate out of the campsite via any of the "obvious exits", all of which just loop back to the camp... oh, no, that's not it, we have to GO NORTH, N doesn't cut it with the parser.  LEAD BURDENBEAST yields TOUGH LUCK, YOU TRIPPED AND THE BURDENBEAST RAN OFF, but the animal doesn't actually leave the campsite.  We have to GET BEAST (which refers to the beast munchies in the carrysacks) and FEED BURDENBEAST (which refers to the beast itself), yielding NOW, TRY TO RIDE/LOAD HIM.  We can RIDE BURDENBEAST; no error or message is thrown for trying to DISMOUNT, but it seems we actually have to UNRIDE BURDENBEAST to get off.  In the end, we learn that there's absolutely no reason to ride or load up the poor animal at all; we can get where we need to go on foot, the burdenbeast can't enter the parts of the map where most of the action takes place, and we can carry everything we need ourselves.

We can tour the outback, travel a dirt road, and find an ABANDONED GRAYLOCK VILLAGE with a sign reading, "DANGER -ORC TERRITORY," and a tavern.  The tavern contains ambrosia bottles, a piece of paper, broken glass, and some tables and chairs.  One of the tables contains a torch, always handy for adventuring.  LOOK AMBROSIA indicates something behind the bottles, which turns out to be a BOX OF ASSORTED QUARRELS AND DARTS after we take the bottles.  We can opt to DRINK AMBROSIA, which yields WHEEEEE ! YOU GOT PLASTERED AND LOST A DAY, but this has no actual adverse consequences.  The paper contains the traditional in-game ad -- the player is urged to WATCH FOR MORE R F C ADVENTURES!

Getting the box of ammunition reveals a lever, and PULL LEVER in turn reveals a trap door.  The trap door leads to a VERY, VERY LONG CORRIDOR -- and it sounds like there are orcs up ahead.  We can't LOAD HANDWEAPON yet, as it only holds two shots at a time.  And it's dark down the way, and we can't LIGHT TORCH yet.  We need some means of ignition, but it's already too late -- we can't move or do much of anything else in the dark, so it's time to restore and avoid this neighborhood for the time being.

North of the village is the base of Spider Mountain.  As we climb through Hell's Gate Pass, we find a ROUGH CLOTH BAG and BONES OF RECENT SPIDER VICTIM, so we'd best take the mountain's name literally.  We have to LOOK ROUGH (that is, the rough cloth bag) to find that IT'S AN OLD TORN SACK, which isn't very helpful; but if we OPEN it, we find some matches.  Good!

Exploring the underground corridor with our trusty torch in hand leads to an intersection with paths leading in all four cardinal directions.  The design's style often shows us things in the distance, and allows us to GO to them directly or navigate via compass directions; in many cases, both are valid, but not always, which can make things a little confusing on the mapping front.

An open alcove north of the intersection has smooth marble walls and a dirt floor -- but we can't DIG yet.  At the end of a narrow passageway to the south we find a LOCKED OAKEN DOOR, which will almost certainly require a key, and to the east is a staircase with dusty, worn steps, leading to a cavern containing a *SACK OF GOLD DUCATS*, a pool, and a boulder.  We can enter the pool to find keys, cave moss and stalagtites [sic]/stalagmites; the only useful item is the set of keys.

West of the cavern is a T-shaped intersection -- Spider Mountain has a fairly extensive map for a TRS-80 BASIC game -- that features some puzzling growth on the walls.  EXAMINE LICHEN indicates ITS A MESSAGE!, but READ LICHEN produces only YOU CAN SEE NOTHING SPECIAL, and READ MESSAGE doesn't do anything interesting either.  I think we have to chalk this one up as a design or testing oversight, from an era when most QA was done by the programmer. 

North of the T intersection is a cobblestone-floored passage with spider webs and a by-definition UNCROSSABLE CHASM.  We can reach the edge of a crumbling ledge, where we find * MYTHRILL ARMING DOUBLETS* and, unsettlingly, we can also see YOUR LIFE FLASHING IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES.  We can't seem to GET MYTHRILL or GET DOUBLETS or GET MYTHRILL ARMING DOUBLETS, though -- the parser doesn't actually support short names, and we need to explicity GET * MYTHRILL to pick them up.  These aren't wearable, so while they sound like good accessories for a mighty knight, they're just treasure.  (And I think Tolkien spelled this fabled metal "mithril"; perhaps these "mythrill" doublets were manufactured on Blueberry Hill.)

To the south of the T is an earthen barrier wall, but we can do nothing with it yet.  Traveling back through a low crawlway, we see a NOTE that wasn't there before, telling us to BRING TREASURES TO TAVERN, AND SAY SCORE.  Okay, it's good to have that traditional detail cleared up!  The note seems to appear only if we have a treasure in hand -- we can free up inventory slots by PUTting things in the carrysacks, but may miss this important note if we do so.

In a rare deviation from the parser's usual style, we can use the keys to UNLOCK DOOR rather than having to UNLOCK LOCKED OAKEN DOOR.  It becomes an UNLOCKED OAKEN DOOR, but we have to GO OAKEN rather than GO UNLOCKED to enter the Ancient Crypt.  Here there's a jewel-encrusted coffin, with one loose # JEWEL # visible if we examine it.  But once we do this, the oaken door is sealed.  PUSH STATUES doesn't help to open the door and make our escape, so it's another opportunity to restore and come back to this later.  Especially because after messing around underground for a while, we eventually learn that YOU'RE [sic] TORCH IS BURNING LOW, and it burns out fairly soon, leaving us stuck helplessly in the dark again.

Going back to the tavern with the treasures we've claimed so far, it seems that each one is worth 25%, so there must be four of them to claim.  Returning to Spider Mountain, we enter a narrow and treacherous crevasse, leading to a gorge entrance blocked by boulders.  Fortunately there's a DIGTOOL here -- not a shovel, mind you.  To the east, hiding behind some brush, we can spot some ORCS and a WEAPON, which is a single-shot crossbow, unloaded.  If we examine the orcs, THEY ARE A SAVAGE LOOKING BAND. AND THEY'VE SEEN YOU.  But we can simply SHOOT ORCS - WITH WHAT? - HANDWEAPON, hitting one of them between the eyes, and killing him, as the others run off.  We can load the new weapon with a quarrel from the box; the dead orc possesses nothing of interest.

With our digtool, we can return to the underground areas.  Digging in the alcove's dirt floor yields nothing, but digging at the dirt wall south of the T-intersection, we find a # GOLD RING #.   So now we have one treasure left to claim, and we probably do want the # JEWEL #; the use of # instead of * for punctuation doesn't seem to mean anything negative.  So how are we to get in and out of the ancient crypt?  Well, first we might have to deal with the band of hostile orcs now hanging out in the tavern; as it turns out, though, while they are eager to attack and kill us if we try to shoot them, we can just ignore them and go about our treasure huntery.

So back to the crypt we go.  As soon as we LOOK COFFIN and discover the jewel, the door seals, so it's probably not a matter of moving the coffin or appeasing the coffin's occupant.  SAYing HOME with or without the scary leather piece in hand doesn't do anything interesting.  We can BURN LEATHER in an attempt to invoke its magic, which produces a BURNT LEATHER PIECE -- interesting, but a closer look now tells us it's just BURNT UP AND RUINED, so that's probably not a good idea.  AH!  Examining the # GOLD RING # reveals that it is actually a RING OF TELEPORTATION; THE INSCRIPTION READS, "SAYING THE MAGIC WORD, GETS ONE HOME."  Discovering the leather piece is, in fact, somewhat optional.

With the ring in hand, the SAY HOME teleport spell takes us out of the Ancient Crypt and back to our camp.  Now we can just walk back to the tavern and drop the treasures; the surprisingly tolerant band of orcs steadfastly refuse to bother us, steal our treasures or otherwise interfere in any way whatsoever.  We now have all 4 treasures, totaling 100%, and it's time to verify our SCORE:   

As a means of assessing our skill, the game rates us based on our number of moves -- it took me 302 moves, a rating of SO-SO, on my playthrough.  I took a look at the code -- I didn't have to do so while playing the game, for a nice change -- and saw that this is actually the worst rating, awarded to anything above 199 moves.  I also realized that I never did run into the titular Spider who guards Spider Mountain, though the code contains a response of OH NO! YOU'VE BEEN ATTACKED BY SHELOB, GUARDIAN OF SPIDER MOUNTAIN.  HER VENOM IS A POWERFUL NEUROTOXIN.  YOU'RE DEAD; this apparently happens if we're in the wrong place without the right items in inventory, which didn't happen to me.

This isn't a particularly difficult adventure; most of the puzzles are obvious, and there are enough clues provided to keep an observant player moving in the right direction.  The game can indeed be finished in under 88 moves to earn an EXCELLENT rating; the CASA walkthrough by Rene van Hasselaar and friends does it very efficiently, well under the target.

This was a fun, quick little fantasy adventure; I've now played most of the Programmer's Guild adventures published by the late Mr. Liddil, but there's at least one more I haven't tackled.

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